Fox 35 Investigates: Flagler County chopper not accessible during 'off hours'

Fox 35 investigates a life-saving service that shuts down at the end of the day. 

The helicopter that could save your life doesn’t run after dark. 

The fire chief wants the medical helicopter ready at any time.

It was at the Circle K in Bunnell Sunday night that a man was shot and needed to go to the hospital, but Flagler County’s emergency Fireflight chopper wasn’t able to take him.

“Off hours” because the chopper was already grounded for the night. 

The county says Fireflight only flies from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. because it’s just too expensive to work 24 hours a day.

“It's a costly endeavor, and switching it from 12 hours to 24 hours would increase those costs significantly,” said Flagler County Public Information Officer Julie Murphy.

When it’s “off hours,” Flagler turns to Volusia or St. John’s counties for help. 

Flagler County Fire Rescue Chief Don Petito hates relying on other, farther away counties for his emergencies. 

“It'd be nice to have and not need than to need and not have,” Chief Petito said.

The county bought the chopper primarily to put out fires, but it also handles medical transport and helps the Sheriff’s Office. 

Two pilots fly it. There used to be three, but the third was cut during the recession in 2008 and that position was never added back.

“The need has not been such where it makes sense to hire two additional pilots to be on around the clock,” Murphy said.

Some who live in the county say the county should re-think that.

“To have a time limit on it doesn't even justify having it if you can only use it between these times,” said Roberta Harellson, a resident.

The man who was shot Sunday was transported by ambulance to Halifax Hospital when emergency crews learned it would take too long for the chopper from St. John’s County to arrive.

Based on the salaries of the current Fireflight pilots, provided to Fox 35 by the county, the cost to increase chopper coverage to 24 hours a day would likely be hundreds of thousands of dollars.